Locus Amoenus; A pleasant place

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Locus Amoenus; A pleasant place

Matthew Kernan



The genesis of this thesis derived from a study of understanding for the genius loci of the canals of East London. What intrigued me most were the romantic moments of tectonics and spatial consequences between architecture and the canal where the buildings situated themselves on the very edge. There was an organically intuitive change to the depth of field portrayed along the eye line datum of the canal walkways. It was in these nuances that I was most interested in.

The project situates itself along the edges of Victoria Parks hinterlands. It aims to understand a chosen length of the Hertford union canal contained by two bridges at either side for where I shall develop my interests in the thesis. In keeping with the nature of the context surrounding the site, the project will be tied together by a constellation of gardens in which require people to form a meandering passage through. These gardens will be designed appropriately to their setting, moving from the wild growth contained within the canal side Chisenhale garden, to the cloister gardens along the rear of the terrace dwellings on Chisenhale Road.

Victoria Park

Montage as developed from 'John Constable; Wivenhoe Park, Essex' image

In order to combine the ideas from genesis, the project will aim to coherently move from landscape as architecture to architecture as landscape as a series of synthesised projects.

The initial move was made to break ground in the ground floor area of the Chisenhale that was abandoned and to take ownership of the canal side garden. My approach to this was to re establish an active ground floor area facing onto the Chisenhale garden whilst also suggesting a design for it. Within the grounds of the garden I proposed to reuse a current piece of structure along the canal edge to form a pavilion house. This would be intended for short stays during seasons of when specific artists are curating the gallery space.

Site Axon

The location of the site informed the brief of the thesis further. Since 2012, the number of narrow boats in East London without home moorings has increased by 182% as a result of people deciding to pursue a life of living on the canals due to the high nature costs of living on land associated in London. The cost associated with permanent home moorings has meant many canal dwellers have chosen the cruiser life style. Every 2 weeks, they would be forced to spend half a day vacating to the next neighbouring site to avoid further costs and fines. This allowed the thesis to evolve further to a more contextual response to this area of London and specifically the canals. I proposed the idea that this length of the canal would form an area where narrow boat users would be able to dock to get short stay temporary repairs to their boats, fuel refills and waste disposal. This meant the creation firstly of a boat shed that would be followed by a hostel as a place to stay.

Elevation Joined

Whilst repairs, maintenance and re fuelling are ongoing with narrow boats, a hostel is provided as short term accommodation. The massing of the tower was inspired by the surrounding architectural topography as well as a solution to the lack of ground space available. The materiality and expression was seen as a clear indication of recognition to the materials used along the edges of the canals in East London and reference to the materiality of narrow boats.


It has been a belief from the inception of this project that it was most important to consider the being of a person as the centre of the architecture and this is an aspect that has driven the thesis. It has provoked the framework for how I have structured the spaces and sequences along the length of the canal. James Joyce once defined his art in the terms of the word ‘epiphany’, by this he meant the understanding by which the most ordinary acts of men could be shown forth – a sudden focus into depth, into naked revelation, of what has seemed to be trivial incident.

This form of thinking has been what has inspired me during my process. There is an evident sense of habitual gregariousness, passion, carnality and sociality along the canal, by its architecture and by its users. This is what I wish to achieve and portray most by this thesis.

03. A-Sc-Hertford_Canal_003-1-100 Canal House + Garden Section




What defined the use of figures from Hockney paintings?

This has came about as full circle in my collection of references from various art collections where figures are central to the meaning of the painting. It has became a major trend in architectural images for these cut outs to be used as figures throughout, however I am always curious as to what the reasoning behind the use of them are, whether practices/students alike use the figurative cutouts from paintings like Hockney’s for a deeper meaning than that of rather following the latest graphic trend.

The vibrancy of the palettes used in the characters depicted by Hockney fitted perfectly with the overall graphical theme that was dominant in this project hence their inclusion. I had tested images with various other cutouts from a range of artists however none of them seemed to fulfil my ambition for the composition of the image quite as well as Hockneys.

Canal Tower, Courtyard

I hope he is aware of how much an influence he is having in architectural representation these days. One of his more well known quotes is highly relevant now I feel, “The moment you cheat for the sake of beauty, you know you're an artist.”. – My imagery always wishes to show a certain depth of reality and truth to how I will compose it as a piece of architecture, however I like to border it on the line with the naivety seen in certain paint works in which the image is portrayed in its most beautiful scene. For me, this is as much about the everyday beauty as anything else.

What is the effect and purpose of the format for the Elevation? What role do the borders play? 

The elevation is composed as a series of stop moments that would be encountered over the length of the site. Rather than composing one long elevation that would focus more on the totality of project, I preferred to narrow them down to a range more akin to how we focus our visual capacity when looking at something in more depth and detail. The border merely presented me with a frame to contain myself within in order to create a more focused execution of the elevations I wished to show.

Elevation Joined

How did the belief of the being of a person as central to the architecture inform the way the images are framed and composed?

It helped me narrow down to two different view types for which I used in the project. The first was where the scene is taken from the eye line of the viewer within the space. In these images, such as the boat house view or the dining hall view, I have intentionally avoided inhabiting the spaces with people as they are seen from the person viewing the room.

Boat House finalDining Hall - FINAL

Secondly, the scenes where the human figure is central to the understanding of the space. Such as the tower keepers room. These images are not so much about the architecture, but how I would wish for the human to experience that particular moment in the project.

The Cloister

What defined the method of representation of the proposal?

This was something that evolved organically. I like to test myself throughout projects by trying different representational techniques from models and drawings until I find something that I feel connects my ambition with how I wish to portray the project and the atmosphere I wish to generate.

I feel it is important to try establish a link between how the proposal is portrayed and the actual reality of the context in which it sits. This may not be literally through creating realistic renderings to mimic the scene, but to extrapolate the colour palette of the area, or the vibrancy of the community in order to define the representational language that will showcase the project best.

How and to what extent have previous projects influenced the means through which you approach the next one?

Previous projects always provide me with different learning outcomes for which I aim to translate into future projects in order to make them better.

I try to avoid them as a means of beginning the design process for the next project as I am fearful this lends itself to repetitiveness. However I will always be mindful of what I have learnt from them when the opportunity arises to incorporate aspects and ideas if appropriate.

Upper floor final



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